Marketing’s Dirty Little Secret

Dipanjan Chatterjee

For all the talk about customer centricity, there’s a dirty little secret that no marketer will easily admit to: Marketing — as a discipline and as the core of most traditional business school marketing curricula — is inward-looking. Take the much-vaunted four Ps: build the right product, price it correctly, put it in the right place, and promote it to induce purchase. It’s all about the brand, not about the consumer. The consumer responds predictably, robot-like, to the various strategies cooked up by marketers.

Meet Homo economicus — the rational consumer. The foundation of modern marketing. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. She doesn’t really exist.  

It’s taken a while for the marketing community to even talk about this. When I was at the University of Chicago, I sat in Richard Thaler’s Ph.D. class on behavioral economics, which was, even in late 1990s, well ahead of its time and disconnected from the MBA curriculum of the abovementioned four-P flavor. In 2011, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman offered two very different thought systems for mass consumption in Thinking, Fast and Slow. Thaler recently reviewed the Michael Lewis (of Liar’s Poker and The Big Short fame) book on the collaboration between Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Here’s the basic idea: There are two systems that drive our decision-making. The first is highly analytical and was presumed to be the epicenter of our rational being.

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Computer: Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

James McQuivey

With all due respect, Star Trek got the future wrong in this one important respect.

Like millions of others, I have a fond spot in my aural memory for the voice of Patrick Stewart. With his enviably erudite accent, Stewart played Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise D, and in the process resurrected the Star Trek franchise from the campy overdrama of William Shatner's Captain James T. Kirk. Among the many things Stewart's voice intoned with such high confidence, one that is instantly recognizable to fans like me is: "Computer, tea, Early Grey, hot."

In the fantasy world of the Starship Enterprise, the computer was an omnipresence, an intelligence that could interact with you verbally but also directed visual information to touchscreens nearby when needed. The computer could also control lighting, ship systems, and -- as so lovingly demonstrated in the above clip -- food replicators. Sounds a lot like Amazon's Alexa, doesn't it? Star Trek is famously credited with previsioning a lot of technology we have today, from PDAs, mobile phones and, hopefully soon, tricorders. You can, in fact, assign your Amazon Echo to respond to the command "computer" instead of Alexa, should you wish.

But this simple sentence, "Computer, tea, Early Grey, hot," as right a description of the future as it is, also got the future completely wrong. Setting aside the question of whether we'll ever have food replicators, if we examine what the phrase suggests about human-computer interaction in the future, we can see pretty quickly why Star Trek got this one wrong. Because in the future:

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Google Home Gives In To Ad Interruptions

James McQuivey

Today several users of Google Home -- Google's competitor to Amazon Echo with its Alexa intelligent agent -- reported that Google was inserting Beauty and the Beast movie promos into their conversations. Read The Verge's account of the details and see the tweet from user @brysonmeunier below:

It's surprising that Google is already testing this kind of interruption model for a couple of reasons. First, it's playing catch up to Amazon's much more mature intelligent speaker product and rocking the user boat with something so blatantly counter to the value of the category so soon feels foolhardy. That said, this will hardly cause a backlash so if it shows that Google is willing to test and refine its value proposition more rapidly than Amazon, that's not a terrible thing.

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Have You Ever Really Loved A Brand?

James McQuivey

I want to know who you love. I'm asking because love for a brand is actually a very hard thing to measure. At Forrester we've spent nearly a year trying to understand the emotional components of branding. Our colleagues in the customer experience (CX) team have years worth of data showing that emotion is the single most powerful driver of satisfaction with an experience. Designing to emotion, then, is a crucial method for success and my colleagues are all over it. 

On the brand side, marketers certainly agree that emotion matters. They have always believed that emotion matters. They just don't agree on how it matters. Or better said they don't have clarity on what emotion really is and so it becomes more difficult to pin down how that emotion applies to their brands -- is brand emotion different from CX-derived emotion? Do they relate to each other, act as influences on each other? It's hard to say for sure when your mental model of how emotion works is inadequate to the task of addressing the fast-moving emotions of today's empowered consumer. 

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Beware the Word "Alignment"

James McQuivey

Another Friday lesson on corporate-speak. Last week I shared how wrong it is to be "right?" and I hope you are secretly forwarding that note to every offender in your organization. Today, I'm here to save you from the equally egregious word "alignment." A seemingly simple word, one that baas like a gentle lamb on a hilly, green pasture. Except this lamb is sheep in the most despicable of wolves' clothing. To be aligned with something literally means to be arranged in a straight line. When someone invites you to be aligned with them, they think they are saying, "let's be on the same side," "let's have a shared perspective," or "let's not seem like we're in disagreement here." All of those meanings sound good -- we are teammates, we collaborate, we know how to work across silos! But none of them are what people really mean when, in an interdepartmental meeting someone says, "We need to make sure that we're in alignment on this."

What they truly mean is, "I've listened to you blather on long enough. You are wrong and I am right and you need to start pretending that you agree with me or we're going to have real problems here."

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The Dawn Of The Multi-Billion Dollar Smartpet Market

James McQuivey

This is the post in which I make the seemingly crazy claim that the "next big thing" for Apple -- and for consumer tech -- will be smart pets. Don't say I didn't warn you. :)

Trying to predict what Apple will do next or what Apple should do next (these are two different things) has fueled some of my best work and most enjoyable after-work conversations. I'm not alone in this endeavor, of course. For the past few years -- ever since the Apple Watch came out -- clients, the press, and just people in my neighborhood ask me: "What's the next big thing for Apple?" There are several key candidates that often get proposed – many have suggested an Apple car though late developments make that less and less likely, others think a virtual reality headset is around the corner while I myself have suggested a voice-based personal assistant (Siri in your ear, as I have been known to call it). In none of those cases would Apple be introducing a market-changing product that leaps years beyond competitors, like the jump from Blackberry to iPhone was. Even Siri in your ear is already happening, the latest version that has captured my attention is the Vinci, currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, a headphone and intelligent agent device which exactly fulfills my prediction of what Apple should have done with Beats but for some reason chose not so, at least so far. 

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When It's Wrong To Be "Right"

James McQuivey

"This new initiative is amazing, right?" 
- Just about every executive on the planet, pretty much every day

This year marks the ten-year anniversary of my return to the analyst world of Forrester from academia where I had spent a wonderful, several-year break. Leaving teaching was a hard call to make. Teaching smart students is very fulfilling, energizing, and informative. In fact, it was a student on the back row of one of my classes who first introduced me to YouTube in 2005. When I made the tough decision to return to analyst life, there were two things about teaching that I knew I wouldn't miss, however: 1) faculty pay, and 2) student uptalk.

Most will recall from when it was a topic of wide conversation that uptalk refers to arbitrarily raising the pitch of your voice at the end of a phrase or sentence, as if asking a question though usually when no question is present. Uptalk was rampant on college campuses back then along with the more standard verbal pause, "like," which I also was not sad to leave behind. I tried to teach my students to exert more effort in their use of words and phrasing; some benefitted from my lessons, others did not. In the end, uptalk, while not a reason to leave teaching behind, was also not a reason to stay.

At last, I thought, I can move into the corporate world, where everybody understands the power of words and exercises more discipline in their choice of just the right word for just the right occasion. Wrong. While I was out for several years engaging in energizing discussions with young, smart students, something happened in the business world. A pernicious fad had arisen and spread itself pandemic-like into every industry. That fad, that disease is the word, "right?".

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The Color of Money at Nordstrom is Not Red or Blue, It's Green.

Dipanjan Chatterjee

Cincinnati, wedged between Kentucky and Indiana at the southwestern tip of the state, is where swinging Ohio blushes deep Red. Except for a few pockets of anomalous defiance that cling Blue, one of which boasts a Nordstrom store. Nordstrom, like a growing number of brands, finds itself caught in the drama of a political America at war with itself. The upscale retailer, facing boycotts from Left and Right, has been forced to pick one. And while it may appear that Nordstrom has picked Blue over Red, it’s actually picked Green above all else.

Some brands choose to affirm fealty to a cause, and while this choice may not be overtly political, it defines the brand along the political spectrum. Hobby Lobby's owners are unabashed about Christian principles in its mission statement. Domino's Pizza, until its sale to Bain Capital, was heavily influenced by its founder’s Catholic activism. But most brands tend not to have such a foundational imperative. Many find a purpose because experts have told them it will strengthen their brand equity. Taking a stand may appear to be a shallow calculated decision, bereft of heart, but it does deliver on the one ethical responsibility that management has – its fiduciary responsibility to its principals, the shareholders.

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Today's "Puzzling" Consumer

James McQuivey

This week I was chatting with a client, explaining how today's consumer has more power than ever before: More information, more choices, more flexibility for exercising preferences, and most especially, less risk associated with changing their behaviors. It's a theme people are already bought into -- Forrester calls it the age of the customer -- but it's also a theme that people are too quick to believe they understand without grasping the kinds of changes this requires for a business to serve such an empowered customer. To get to that extra level of awareness, during my conversation this week, I came up with a way to describe it that I call the puzzling consumer.

Back in the day, a company designed a puzzle for you and saw you as a missing piece. They defined a hole with a certain shape, one that was convenient to them based on the analog tools they had, the historic mindset of their industry and so on. Then the company invited you to reshape yourself to fit that hole.

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YouTube Is The First Digital Platform To Take On Live TV

James McQuivey

Watch out, cable TV. Today YouTube shared it's newest subscription service -- YouTube TV -- with a hundred or so journalists at a live event at the company's headquarters. This is different from YouTube Red, the subscription version of YouTube enjoyed by at least 1.5 million people and focuses mostly on ad-free access to short-form videos along with a few exclusives. Instead, this new service is aimed squarely at pay TV. It does so by offering three things that cable TV has previously been best at:

  1. Live TV. YouTube announced deals with the major broadcasters -- CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox -- as well as a slew of cable programmers. Like with earlier over-the-top (OTT) TV providers Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, the content can be watched live, on an Android or Chrome device, or on a TV via a Chromecast and one assumes other devices soon enough.
  2. Cloud DVR. This is the new thing that all OTT TV services specialize in and some traditional cable packages -- like Xfinity from Comcast -- also offer. YouTube's DVR is unlimited and can record multiple shows at the same time.
  3. Sports. Yep, ESPN is one of the main reasons people still pay for TV and to succeed any OTT TV service has to have it. That ice was already broken by Sling TV, giving YouTube TV a way in to what used to be the most closely guarded part of the pay TV business.
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